Healthy Soils for a Healthy Life

LOGO_IYS_en_Print_squareI was born in the year of the snake, my kids were born in the year of the rat and tiger respectively. But this year…2015 is the International Year of Soils. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has declared 2015 the year to celebrate soil and it’s importance to all life, including ours. As an agronomist working with producers on soil health, it makes for an exciting conversation. I mean…soil is on Facebook! While I am glad we are spending a whole year celebrating the foundation of our food system, I only hope we continue to celebrate it every day! That said, I thought I would take the opportunity as 2015 begins to reiterate the message of the importance of soil health.



From the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization:
• Healthy soils are the basis for healthy food production.
• Soils are the foundation for vegetation which is cultivated or managed for feed, fiber, fuel and medicinal products.
• Soils support our planet’s biodiversity and they host a quarter of the total.
• Soils help to combat and adapt to climate change by playing a key role in the carbon cycle.
• Soils store and filter water, improving our resilience to floods and droughts.
• Soil is a non-renewable resource; its preservation is essential for food security and our sustainable future.i heart soil

So I don’t know about you, but I HEART SOIL! Soil is key to human health, food security and even water quality. Farmers across Vermont do so many things to protect and improve soil health. I hope 2015 is the year that we celebrate all the work farmers do to create the foundation of our food system, the filter for improved water quality, and the basis for human and animal health. You can celebrate it by sharing your story of all you do to grow and celebrate healthy soil. Put it on your Facebook page, your farm website, in your next CSA newsletter. Host a field day on your farm (your friendly local UVM Extension agent would be happy to help you coordinate it) focusing on soil health practices. And of course…don’t forget to try something new for soil health on your farm in 2015, the International Year of Soils:

•Learn something new…attend the 2015 No-Till & Cover Crop Symposium on February 19th.
• Cover Crop and utilize Crop Rotation
• Reduce Tillage and cultivation
• Maximize residue on the soil surface
• Take a soil health test in two fields and compare results
• Write a Nutrient Management Plan
• Set a goal for organic matter in your soils (already @ 3%…try for 5%)


Some great links to check out:

Vermont’s State Soil Series (bet you didn’t know we had one): Tunbridge
FAO’s Official International Year of Soils Website
A great Discover Soils video series from SSSA: Human Health, Food Security, & Water Quality.
I Heart Soil Facebook Page
IYS 2015 Facebook Page


Farmers join Joel Meyers at a soil pit at a Soil Health Field Day in Panton, VT in August 2014


Looking at soil aggregates in heavy clay soil in Panton, VT in a field that has been in sod for multiple years.


Planting Green:  no-till planting corn into a standing crop of winter rye

Planting Green: no-till planting corn into a standing crop of winter rye

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USDA Extends Dairy Margin Protection Program Sign-Up Deadline

Dairy producers urged to act now to protect their businesses against unpredictable market swings, take advantage of increased protections offered in first year of program.

The application deadline for the dairy Margin Protection Program (MPP) will be extended until Dec. 19, 2014.  The program, established by the 2014 Farm Bill, protects participating dairy producers when the margin – the difference between the price of milk and feed costs – falls below levels of protection selected by the applicant.

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Guide by Your Side: What Makes a Good Extension Educator Good?

In my Social Sustainability on the Farm project, we’ve been looking at the social issues farmers face; so I have been thinking about healthy farmer relationships—both personal and professional. And since I work for UVM Extension, naturally I wonder about our connections with farmers; how can we, in Extension, be most helpful to farmers and the public at large? What’s our role(s)? And, what makes a good Extension educator good?

Kirsten Workman, UVM Extension Outreach Agronomy Professional

Kirsten Workman, UVM Extension Outreach Agronomy Professional

An interview with colleague and fellow WAgN blogger Kirsten Workman provided some answers. Kirsten is an Outreach Agronomy Professional with the Champlain Valley Crops, Soil & Pasture Team housed in Middlebury. As one of our newest “movers and shakers” in Extension, it was fun to learn how excited Kirsten is to be an Extension educator and how she views her work in the agricultural community.

Kirsten uses terms like “convener,” “interpreter,” and “ombudsperson” to describe her role. Like most in Extension, she conducts on-farm demonstrations, field research, workshops and other educational events. But it is fostering the connections with and among farmers that makes her job most meaningful. She talks about the value of bringing folks to the table and figuring things out together. She points out the importance of meeting farmers where they are–both physically and educationally–and addressing their questions without judgement.

“One of the key things about my job is understanding where people are coming from,” she said. “As a former farmer myself, I really respect what farmers do on a day-to-day basis. It is not easy to farm in this challenging climate, and so I approach each farm–from the 5 acre vegetable operation to the LFO [large farm operation]–by thinking about how can I be most helpful to them where they are at right now. For one farm, that might mean helping them fill out some paperwork; for another, it might be exploring how a certain cover crop performs in their soils.”

Meeting farmers where they are. On a cold & rainy November day, Kirsten leads a field day demonstrating cover crops in silage corn acreage.

Meeting farmers where they are. On a cold & rainy November day, Kirsten leads a field day featuring her cover crop variety trials in silage corn acreage.

Kirsten’s “guide by your side” approach differs from the traditional “sage on stage” expert-driven model. And academics who’ve studied Extension educational delivery methods contend that Kirsten’s approach is key to effective work. One research team led by Iowa State University’s Nancy Franz  suggests that “…Agricultural educators must understand farmers’ needs and struggles and design programs to address them.” They say that Extension educators “…need to not only be experts in a particular subject matter but also be architects of relationships, learning processes, and environments that directly meet farmers’ needs to catalyze transformative learning.”

Whether you prefer the term “architect of relationships” or “an advocate for farmers and advocate to farmers” as Kirsten does, it seems clear that what makes a good Extension educator good is the building of trusting relationships with and among farmers and the greater community.

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